How To Tell If Cabbage Is Bad – Ultimate Guide

Determined to eat more healthily this summer, I added a few cabbages to my cart when I went shopping, envisioning all the meals I was going to make with them. Then my days got busy, and the cabbages sat forgotten at the bottom of my refrigerator. They looked fine, but how do you tell if cabbage is bad?

heads of cabbage with cut up cabbage

You will know that cabbage is bad if you notice a change in its texture from firm to slimy. The leaves will have shrunk or look shriveled. A cabbage that has been cut will start to discolor along the cut edge, from green to greyish black. The most apparent sign that cabbage is bad is its foul smell.

Eating cabbage that has gone bad has health risks, so it is vital to store cabbage correctly and practice food safety.

Tell-tale Signs That Cabbage Has Gone Off

Cabbage has a low water content, which gives it longer shelf life. However, it will eventually go bad.

Throwing cabbage that is bad into a dish will ruin the meal, but more than that, it can cause severe food poisoning. Thankfully, it is easy to tell when cabbage is bad (and broccoli too!)

Sign #1: There Will Be A Change In Appearance

Fruit and vegetables that are fresh and ready to be eaten look appealing; they are brightly colored and have a firm exterior. The same is true for cabbage.

The first sign that cabbage is starting to go bad will be the way it looks. If you have stored the cabbage whole and not cut it, you may notice that the outer leaves look shriveled.

If you have cut the cabbage in half or in wedges, you will know that it is starting to go bad if the edges have turned a greyish-black color and the top few layers of leaves have wilted.

Cabbage that has been shredded into smaller pieces before storing will change to a brownish color and have a mushy texture when they are bad. 

Sign #2: The Texture Will Change

Coleslaw is loved for its tanginess and crunchiness. You cannot make a good ‘slaw without fresh cabbage, which will add a delectable crunchiness to the coleslaw. Like most produce, cabbage will become slimy or mushy and wet when it is bad.

Sign #3: It Develops Fungus Or Mold

Cabbage is one of those vegetables that turns watery as it goes bad; this leads to mold or fungus forming on the leaves. If you notice black spots on your cabbage or leaves that have a fuzzy growth on them, it is best to toss the cabbage out.  

Sign #4: It Has A Bad Smell

A bad smell is the most obvious sign that cabbage is past its expiry date and cannot be consumed. Cabbage has a bit of a funky smell to begin with, even while it is being cooked. However, cabbage should be tossed out immediately if it smells rotten or like ammonia.

Difference Between Damaged Cabbage and Rotten Cabbage

Sometimes, there may be damage on your cabbage without it being completely bad. If the cabbage has some bad spots on the outside, you may be able to remove the outer leaves and use the inside.

Below you can see a photo of outwardly damaged cabbage that still has good parts within.

On the other hand, when cabbage is completely rotten, it will look something like this:

The truth is, your cabbage may fall somewhere in between these two photos. As we discussed earlier, make sure to examine the appearance, texture, and smell before proceeding with eating old cabbage.

How To Choose A Cabbage That Will Last

Of course, you will be much better off if you can prevent your cabbage from going bad in the first place!

Take a bit of time when you are in the grocery store’s produce section to choose the best cabbage.

When choosing, avoid selecting cabbage with wilted leaves, bruises, blemishes, or discoloration (like the photo of damaged cabbage above). Check that the leaves feel firm.

Next, choose a cabbage that is heavier for its size with leaves that are tightly attached to the head. The tighter the leaves are connected, the less air will be introduced between the leaves, and the slower the aging process.

What Is The Best Way To Store Cabbage?

Correctly storing cabbage will prevent it from going bad too quickly.

The first thing to do is handle it with care. Cabbages that are dropped or bruised will start to decay quicker.

Cabbage that has not been shredded does not have to be stored in the fridge. It will last about two weeks if kept in a cool, dark place. Be sure not to place the cabbage in a sealed container; a veggie rack or basket will be perfect.

It is best to store cabbage uncut as shredding cabbage before storing can cause it to lose vitamin C. Cabbage that is kept whole, placed in a plastic bag, and stored in the drawer section of the refrigerator, unwashed, will last the longest. Wash the cabbage only when you are ready to use it. Water will speed up the decaying process.

Cabbage also freezes very well. It can either be frozen raw, simply sliced into shreds, placed in a sealed container, or Ziplock bag and popped into the freezer. Frozen cabbage that is uncooked should be used within one or two months.

Blanching cabbage before freezing will extend its shelf life. It is also an easy and convenient meal prep idea.

Blanche shredded cabbage in boiling water for not more than two minutes. Then place the blanched cabbage in iced water immediately, stopping the cooking process and ensuring your cabbage maintains that crisp bite. Drain the cabbage, pat dry, and allow to cool before storing in an airtight container and freezing. Store blanched cabbage in the freezer for about six months.

How To Tell If Cooked Cabbage Is Bad

Cooked cabbage can go bad quickly, especially if it is a hot day and it has been out of the fridge for more than two hours. You will know that cooked cabbage has gone off if it has a strong smell and looks bad. You will not have to taste it to make sure; toss it immediately.

More Questions On Spoiled Cabbage

Before we finish, let’s talk about some more common questions people ask about cabbage going bad.

Can cabbage that is starting to go bad be salvaged?

Like most things in life, if detected early, cabbage that has just started to go bad can be salvaged. If the cabbage is still whole and you notice the outermost leaves have started to wilt, some of the cabbage may still be good. Peel away layers of the wilted leaves and check that the leaves beneath have maintained their color and texture.

For cabbage that has been shredded, stored, and forgotten, wash the leaves thoroughly, then taste the raw leaves. If the shredded leaves still have a crunch and taste good, they will be safe to consume.

What is the average shelf life of cabbage?

The way cabbage is stored will determine how well and for how long it keeps. Cabbage stored in the fridge will usually keep for between one to two months.

Frozen cabbage that has been cooked can keep for about 18 months, while uncooked, frozen cabbage must be used within one to two months.

Why does cabbage last so long?

Other vegetables last a short amount of time because they have a high water content. Lots of water causes veggies to get mushy and moldy faster. Cabbage has a lower water content, which helps it to last much longer.

Can you eat cabbage that has black spots on it?

Sometimes cabbage gets black specks on the oustide stalk. Although this affects the appearance, it is not a sign of spoilage. This is known as a “pepper spot.” You can still eat cabbage with these spots.

How long does cooked cabbage Last?

Cabbage can go a long way, and it is often a budget-friendly way to bulk up meals. If you have leftover cooked cabbage, store it in an airtight, shallow container or in the fridge for three to five days.

Cooked cabbage can also be frozen. If stored in an airtight container or heavy-duty freezer bag, cooked cabbage will remain good for at least 12 months.

How long does preserved cabbage last?

Preserving cabbage is another great way to stretch the shelf life of cabbage; this is done by either pickling or fermenting the cabbage. From kimchi to sauerkraut, fermented cabbage is a delicacy and firm favorite in many cultures.

Fermented cabbage can last up to six months if stored in an airtight container in the fridge, while pickled cabbage lasts four to six weeks in the refrigerator.

How do you tell if red cabbage is bad?

While we’ve been focusing on green cabbage in this article, you can follow the same steps to check for spoilage on red cabbage. The only difference is it may be slightly harder to see the spoilage since the color is already darker.


It is always disappointing when you forget about your head of cabbage in the fridge and it goes bad. Make sure to check for signs of spoilage before eating an old cabbage. If there are bad signs on the outside, you may still be able to salvage it. But if you are ever unsure, it is probably best to err on the safe side!

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